No town was more fought over during the Civil War than Winchester, Virginia. It changed hands so many times that we don’t have a decent count. Some say over 100.
Winchester was about 70 miles east of Washington, DC, in the Shenandoah Valley. It was surrounded on all sides by hills, so an approaching army was hard to detect, and it was just about impossible to defend.
The town and area was largely composed of German and Scottish descendants who worked the land and had no slaves. They didn’t want secession, but when it came, they acted to defend their land against invasion.
But the real story here is something else. Lincoln’s Secretary of State Seward visited the town in 1862 and reported,
“…the men are all in the army, and the women are the devils.”
The women of Winchester did not take kindly to any Union occupiers. A soldier in the 7th Ohio Infantry wrote that
“Charleston, South Carolina could not furnish a female and juvenile population imbued with more bitter sentiments towards the North and her soldiers than this city.”
Women would cross the street or step off sidewalks into the mud to avoid being near near Federal soldiers, or walking under a U.S. flag.
One of their tactics was to wear what they called “Jeff Davis bonnets,” hiding their eyes from those of the Federals. But under those bonnets were some angry ladies. Another Federal soldier reported that when he remarked on the beauty of the town’s young women to an elderly Winchester lady, she replied,
“Honey, they could just cut your hearts out.”
Right after the war these women organized to collect and bury the remains of Confederates scattered around the region. Their Stonewall Jackson Cemetery holds 2,489 Confederate soldiers.
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